By Mackenzie Roche
Jewish a cappella group Kol Sasson kicked off “The End of Jewish Communal Life in the Arab Lands” event at Stamp Monday with songs of unification and optimism about the Jewish people.
This university’s premier Jewish a cappella group opened the event, which was hosted by the faculty of Jewish studies and the Dahan Center at Bar-Ilan University as well as by the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies and the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies.
The event’s organizers chose Kol Sasson to perform because the group sings a mixture of English and Hebrew songs as well as traditional Jewish songs, said Dr. Shimon Ohayon, one of the organizers and a professor at Bar-Ilan University.
“A cappella is something unique,” he said. “Their voices have the ability to touch the audience members, and their combination of songs made it a good fit.”
The international conference brought members of the Jewish community from all over the world together to talk about the large-scale exodus of Jews from Arab countries — about 900,000 people over the past few decades, Ohayo said.
Kol Sasson President Leah Schatz said the group’s songs fit into the event’s Middle Eastern Jewish focus.
They performed Hebrew songs “Tzion” and “Bidyuk Kmo Hayareach.” They began with “Tzion” which brought an upbeat tone to the conference with its theme of homecoming and hope. “Bidyuk Kmo Hayareach” was a slower performance and centered around “being together and leaning on each other,” Schatz said in her introduction.
Ohayon said “Bidyuk Kmo Hayareach” was his favorite song of the performance because it was the most professional and meaningful, but he appreciated the effort that went into learning and performing all the songs.
Kol Sasson concluded its performance with a mash-up of the English song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and “Yachad” by Gaya which appealed to the wide variety of audience members both young and old, American and Israeli.
“This song is about uniting as one with your people, be they your friends, family or nation,” Schatz said of the mash-up. “It is about how home is about who you are with in addition to where you are, and about how lucky we are to find that home in the entirety of the Jewish people.”
The mash-up style showed audience members modern music and traditional Jewish music have many parallel themes and meanings, said Ezra Suldan, a senior at Beth Tfiloh High School who came to the event with his Jewish history class.
“The whole point of the conference was to talk about unity, so I think [Kol Sasson’s] song choices were very fitting,” Suldan said. The event showed the strong relationship between the two schools – Bar-Ilan University and this university- and Kol Sasson’s songs reflected that relationship, he added.
Schatz, a senior elementary education major, said overall she hoped Kol Sasson started the event off on a hopeful, meaningful note.
“I hope our songs of appreciation for the Jewish people helped set the tone for the event that the coordinators were hoping for,” she added.